OPEN Foundation

G. Baker

Hallucinogenic/psychedelic 5HT2A receptor agonists as rapid antidepressant therapeutics: Evidence and mechanisms of action


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is among the most prevalent mental health disorders worldwide, and it is associated with a reduced quality of life and enormous costs to health care systems. Available drug treatments show low-to-moderate response in most patients, with almost a third of patients being non-responders (treatment-resistant). Furthermore, most currently available medications need several weeks to achieve therapeutic effects, and the long-term use of these drugs is often associated with significant unwanted side effects and resultant reductions in treatment compliance. Therefore, more effective, safer, and faster-acting antidepressants with enduring effects are needed. Together with ketamine, psychedelics (or classic or serotoninergic hallucinogens) such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin, and ayahuasca are among the few compounds with recent human evidence of fast-acting antidepressant effects. Several studies in the 1950s to 1970s reported antidepressive and anxiolytic effects of these drugs, which are being confirmed by modern trials (LSD, one trial; psilocybin, five trials; ayahuasca, two trials). The effects of these drugs appear to be produced primarily by their agonism at serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) receptors, especially the 5-HT2A receptor. Considering the overall burden of MDD and the necessity of new therapeutic options, the promising (but currently limited) evidence of safety and efficacy of psychedelics has encouraged the scientific community to explore more fully their beneficial effects in MDD.

Dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J. E., Baker, G., & Dursun, S. (2021). Hallucinogenic/psychedelic 5HT2A receptor agonists as rapid antidepressant therapeutics: Evidence and mechanisms of action. Journal of psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 35(4), 453–458.

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Esketamine for treatment resistant depression.


Introduction: Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD) is a common and burdensome condition with poor outcomes and few treatment options. Esketamine is the S-enantiomer of ketamine and has recently been FDA approved in the United States for treating depression that has failed to respond to trials of two or more antidepressants. Areas covered: This review will briefly discuss current treatment options for TRD, then review esketamine. Relevant literature was identified through online database searches, and clinical trial data were provided by Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Pharmacology, including kinetics and dynamics, is discussed, then clinical data regarding efficacy and safety for esketamine from Phase 2-3 trials are reviewed. Expert opinion: In the expert opinion, the authors discuss multiple factors including patient, physician, and social factors that will influence the use of esketamine. While the efficacy of esketamine compared to off-label use of racemic ketamine remains unclear, both esketamine’s approval for use in TRD and longer-term safety data may position it preferentially above racemic ketamine, although factors such as cost and monitoring requirements may limit its use. While questions remain regarding duration and frequency of treatment, as well as addictive potential, esketamine is a novel treatment option offering new hope for TRD.
Swainson, J., Thomas, R. K., Archer, S., Chrenek, C., MacKay, M. A., Baker, G., … & Demas, M. L. (2019). Esketamine for treatment resistant depression. Expert review of neurotherapeutics, 1-13.,
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Rapid effectiveness of intravenous ketamine for ultraresistant depression in a clinical setting and evidence for baseline anhedonia and bipolarity as clinical predictors of effectiveness



Intravenous ketamine has been established as an efficacious and safe treatment, with transient effect, for treatment-resistant depression. However, the effectiveness of intravenous ketamine in non-research settings and with ultraresistant depression patients remains understudied.


This study aims to measure the response and remission rates in ultraresistant depression patients in a clinical setting by means of a retrospective, open label, database study. Secondarily, the study will attempt to support previous findings of clinical predictors of effectiveness with intravenous ketamine treatment.


Fifty patients with ultraresistant depression were treated between May 2015-December 2016, inclusive, in two community hospitals in Edmonton using six ketamine infusions of 0.5 mg/kg over 40 min over 2-3 weeks. Data were collected retrospectively from inpatient and outpatient charts. Statistical analysis to investigate clinical predictors of effectiveness included logistic regression analysis using a dependent variable of a 50% reduction in rating scale score at any point during treatment.


At baseline, the average treatment resistance was severe, with a Maudsley Staging Method score of 12.1 out of 15, 90.0% were resistant to electroconvulsive therapy, and the average Beck Depression Inventory score was 34.2. The response rate was 44% and remission rate was 16%. As a single predictor, moderate or severe anhedonia at baseline predicted a 55% increased likelihood of response. As a combined predictor, this level of anhedonia at baseline with a diagnosis of bipolar depression predicted a 73% increase in likelihood of response.


In a clinical setting, intravenous ketamine showed effectiveness in a complex, severely treatment-resistant, depressed population on multiple medication profiles concurrently. This study gave support to anhedonia and bipolar depression as clinical predictors of effectiveness.

Thomas, R. K., Baker, G., Lind, J., & Dursun, S. (2018). Rapid effectiveness of intravenous ketamine for ultraresistant depression in a clinical setting and evidence for baseline anhedonia and bipolarity as clinical predictors of effectiveness. Journal of psychopharmacology32(10), 1110-1117., 10.1177/0269881118793104
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Ayahuasca: Psychological And Physiologic Effects, Pharmacology And Potential Uses In Addiction And Mental Illness


Ayahuasca, a traditional Amazonian decoction with psychoactive properties, is made from bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (contains beta-carboline alkaloids) and leaves of the Psychotria viridis bush (supply the hallucinogen N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)). Originally used by indigenous shamans for the purposes of spirit communication, magical experiences, healing, and religious rituals, across several South American countries ayahuasca has been incorporated into folk medicine and spiritual healing, and several Brazilian churches use it routinely to foster spiritual experience. More recently it is being used in Europe and North America, not only for religious or healing reasons, but also for recreation.
To review ayahuasca’s behavioral effects, possible adverse effects, proposed mechanisms of action and potential clinical uses in mental illness.
We searched Medline, in English, using the terms ayahuasca, dimethytryptamine, Banisteriopsis caapi, and Psychotria viridis and reviewed the relevant publications.
The following aspects of ayahuasca are summarized: Political and legal factors; acute and chronic psychological effects; electrophysiological studies and imaging; physiological effects, safety and adverse effects; pharmacology; potential psychiatric uses.
Many years of shamanic wisdom have indicated potential therapeutic uses for ayahuasca, and many present day studies suggest that it may be useful for treating various psychiatric disorders and addictions. The side effect profile appears to be relatively mild, but more detailed studies need to be done. Several prominent researchers feel that government regulations with regard to ayahuasca should be relaxed so that it could be provided more readily to recognized credible researchers to conduct comprehensive clinical trials.
Hamill, J., Hallak, J., Dursun, S. M., & Baker, G. (2018). Ayahuasca: Psychological And Physiologic Effects, Pharmacology And Potential Uses In Addiction And Mental Illness. Current neuropharmacology. 10.2174/1570159X16666180125095902
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22 May - Delivering Effective Psychedelic Clinical Trials